Friday, August 28, 2015

The Fortunate Mistake

I was getting a belated start on my weekly blog post and stopped to look up the mission statement for the Midwest Writing Center, my favorite not-for-profit organization.

I expected to find the following the simple sentence:

Fostering the appreciation of the written word and supporting its creators.

Instead, I found a nice photo of a bunch of kids, probably some middle-schoolers from a recent summer-camp-style workshop, with this displayed underneath:

Fostering the appreciation of the writeen word and supporting its creators.

My first thought, “Ugh, typo alert. They should fix that.”

Then I took a minute, looked at it again, and began to appreciate the cleverness of that particular misspelling. Especially in the context of a group of young people.

By entering one T and two Es instead of two Ts and one E, the word transformed to something new and exciting. A few misplaced keystrokes produced a superior caption for that photo.

It put “teen” into the writing picture.

After all, getting young folks into writing was the whole focus of the Midwest Writing Center’s YEW Middle School Camp and Young Emerging Writers Summer Internship Program.

Sometimes typos and other artistic mistakes have to be appreciated and savored for the subconscious gifts they are.

“Totally cool,” in oldie speak.

In other words, “Awesome.”

Friday, August 21, 2015

What It Is NOT About

I tried for a very long time NOT to make my novel about mothers.

I failed.

There are subplots about mothers…and daughters…and growing up…and coming to terms with less than perfect parents.

I also tried to keep Erik Jansson’s presence to a bare minimum because there were things I didn’t want to discuss.

Failed at that, too.

But I managed to put off dealing with him until close to the end of the book.

I wasted a lot of time in the process of failing to deal with those issues.

The lesson I learned was not to avoid the difficult topics. Not to try for definitive answers. Just put in enough information and thought to be enticing.

I think it turned out to be a lot like one of my favorite Rhymes with Orange cartoons:

A woman tries to decide which piece of pizza to buy for lunch. She asks the guy behind the counter what’s on each.

He says, “One has pepperoni and one has little bits of truth.”

She chooses the slice of life.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Write To Read

They say to write what you want to read.

“They” being the experts we’re supposed to pay attention to because: a. They’ve been there, b. They’ve done that.

Well, I’ve spent the better part of the last five years adding layers of detail and nuance to my novel, because that’s what I wanted to read. I like books that are: smart, involved, and complex enough to be interesting.

To that end I’ve tried the following:

·        My novel doesn’t deal with one mysterious painting—it deals with three of them.

·        My protagonist has mommy issues with not one but two parental figures.


·        She has issues with a well-meaning uncle.

·        And guy issues.

·        And roommate issues.

·        And work issues.

·        And finally, she has to figure out that each of my villains has his own selfish agenda.

I’ve heard “them” say to write what you know.

After spending a large chunk of my adult life in one small place, I think I know Bishop Hill. It may not always present itself in an obvious manner, but the currents swirl around in my subconscious mind. They surface when I need them, allowing me to built fictitious characters and events out of bits and pieces of the stuff I remember.

The whole process has been an education in writing longer works of fiction. I hope the end product will be an enjoyable read.

A “good read” has been my goal all along.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Getting Things Right

Recently, I was given a gift, a nice Facebook gift, when a young friend, who has a really cool job at an art auction house, connected me to a Christie’s article about paintings.

I took art classes in high school and college. I did some painting…but not all that much…so I knew writing about paintings in a mystery novel would be a stretch. I had to pay attention to books like The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro for painting terminology and descriptions of techniques, and carefully read anything I could find on Olof Krans. Even if I couldn’t directly use the information, I needed to understand it all.

Now, I had another good source. The Christie’s article was about the backs of paintings. Yes, the backs.

As museum visitors, we rarely get to see the backs of paintings. I can only think of one occasion where a Grant Wood painting was displayed on an easel in the middle of the room leaving the back exposed.

So, this article was a treat from the start:

“5 things you can learn from the back of a painting.
The most overlooked aspect of an artwork is by no means the least important, as specialist Tom Rooth explains.

“…What lurks beneath the back of a painting can often be as surprising as what is marked upon it. Though it’s incredibly rare, there have been cases where paintings have been found hidden behind other works — sometimes for hundreds of years, escaping the attention of galleries and auction houses. A loose lining, or an unusual run of nails can be a clue, though sometimes these secret masterpieces are only revealed when a work is reframed. It’s impossible to say why a work is hidden in this way: it may have been a way to store and preserve a work, or it might simply be that the frame was repurposed.
“Where reframing would be difficult, improvements in imaging technology have allowed experts to see through the top layers of a work to any original paintings or drawings below; it has not been uncommon for penniless artists to reuse canvases.”
There’s nothing like the feeling of being totally on target. The “I was sooo right” moment.

I savor it because…it doesn’t come by all that often.

To read the entire article go to: